The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth

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Author: John Bagnell Bury

CHAPTER VII
NEW CONCEPTIONS OF HISTORY: MONTESQUIEU, VOLTAIRE, TURGOT

The theory of human Progress could not be durably established by abstract arguments, or on the slender foundations laid by the Abbe de Saint-Pierre. It must ultimately be judged by the evidence afforded by history, and it is not accidental that, contemporaneously with the advent of this idea, the study of history underwent a revolution. If Progress was to be more than the sanguine dream of an optimist it must be shown that man’s career on earth had not been a chapter of accidents which might lead anywhere or nowhere, but is subject to discoverable laws which have determined its general route, and will secure his arrival at the desirable place. Hitherto a certain order and unity had been found in history by the Christian theory of providential design and final causes. New principles of order and unity were needed to replace the principles which rationalism had discredited. Just as the advance of science depended on the postulate that physical phenomena are subject to invariable laws, so if any conclusions were to be drawn from history some similar postulate as to social phenomena was required.

It was thus in harmony with the general movement of thought that about the middle of the eighteenth century new lines of investigation were opened leading to sociology, the history of civilisation, and the philosophy of history. Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois, which may claim to be the parent work of modern social science, Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs, and Turgot’s plan of a Histoire universelle begin a new era in man’s vision of the past.

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Chicago: John Bagnell Bury, "Chapter VII New Conceptions of History: Montesquieu, Voltaire, Turgot," The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932), Original Sources, accessed January 22, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q7Q3AXJJCY8TGHG.

MLA: Bury, John Bagnell. "Chapter VII New Conceptions of History: Montesquieu, Voltaire, Turgot." The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1932, Original Sources. 22 Jan. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q7Q3AXJJCY8TGHG.

Harvard: Bury, JB, 'Chapter VII New Conceptions of History: Montesquieu, Voltaire, Turgot' in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth. cited in 1932, The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 January 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q7Q3AXJJCY8TGHG.